Sports

Big East Finale A Tribute to Dave Gavitt’s Vision

This weekend marks the 34th and final Big East Basketball Tournament before the league is chopped up into tiny pieces.  The storied conference has produced  over 33 years 17 NCAA basketball final four teams, 11 national finalists and 7 national champions.   As people lament and wax nostalgic about this final championship tournament, it is nice to see its visionary founder and first Commissioner – Dave Gavitt – finally get the credit and recognition he deserves (albeit posthumously).  It was Gavitt who launched the conference and moved its tournament to Madison Square Garden.

ESPN’s “Last Call For a Garden Party,” an oral history of the Big East, properly gives Gavitt hit due.

I often tell people that I owe my legal career to Coach Gavitt since I learned to argue by constantly defending him from my father’s second guessing or anxiety, although it was not a very difficult task.  It is hard to argue with 8 consecutive 20-win seasons, including 5 NCAA appearances (when it was only 32 teams) and one final four appearance.  It was at Providence, however, that Gavitt began a string of achievements that either often were overlooked and/or were denied their full glory due to some tragic fate.

1973 What If?

Gavitt3-lgGavitt’s 1973 Friars went 28-4 en route to an appearance in the Final Four.  The Friars were looking forward to a potential rematch against Bill Walton and UCLA who had defeated them early in the season at Pauley Pavilion, but the Friars had won 17 straight since then by an average of 14 points (including trouncing heavily favored Maryland in the Eastern Regional Final).  In the semi-final game against Memphis State, Providence’s fast break offense sprinted to a double digit lead in what was beginning to look like a potential blow out when disaster struck.  Providence’s star center Marvin Barnes, who averaged 18.3 points and 19 rebounds (compared to 20.4 points and 16.9 rebounds for Bill Walton) and who scored 12 points in the first 11 minutes of the game, injured his knee and would not be able to play the rest of the tournament.

Gavitt faced a tough choice.  He could have switched to a four-corners style offense to hold on and stagger their way into the title game with UCLA, but he was too classy for that and ultimately Memphis was exploit Barnes injury and win 98-85.  NBC Announcer Curt Gowdy later told Gavitt it was the “best half of basketball he had ever seen.”  Two days later Bill Walton dominated Memphis en route to the championship and Gavitt and Providence fans were left to wonder “what if?”

Winless Olympic Coach

Coach Gavitt left Providence to become coach of the 1980 Men’s Olympic Basketball team, but never got to play a single Olympic game because of the boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics.  While with no Olympic medal or even a single victory to show, Gavitt’s team did go 5-1 against NBA All-Stars

Celtic Renaissance

Gavitt also took on the thankless task of taking over for Red Aurebach and turned the franchise around.  As RantSports notes:

                   [Some of Gavitt’s] best work was done as the Vice President of the Boston Celtics. This is the work that Celtics fans just do not appreciate. Stepping into the shadow of Red Auerbach to run the Boston Celtics is not a task most would be up for. Gavitt was more than up for the challenge. After some disappointing seasons with the original “Big Three” aging and not much supporting cast, Gavitt rebuilt the team with young legs. He made former first round pick Brian Shaw come to Boston. He then drafted Dee Brown to add even more young legs to the guard spot. He kept Kevin Gamble despite the fact he was nothing more than a CBA castoff that could not make it with Portland. These men along with Reggie Lewis breathed life back into the Celtics and the result was the team went 108 and 56 in his first two years running the show.

Then of course the Big 3 retired or declined, Reggie Lewis died and the Celtics would stumble until the Kevin Garnett er,.A

The Dream Team and More

As RantSports notes, Gavitt also was

  • NCAA  chairman from 1982-84 during that time the tournament expanded to 64 teams and the first of its TV contracts with CBS was negotiated.

  • President of USA Basketball and helped with the introduction of NBA players onto the U.S. Olympic roster, including the Dream Team at the 1992 Games.

However, some of his best work

was done as the Vice President of the Boston Celtics. This is the work that
Celtics fans just do not appreciate. Stepping into the shadow of Red Auerbach
to run the Boston Celtics is not a task most would be up for. Gavitt was more
than up for the challenge. After some disappointing seasons with the original “Big
Three” aging and not much supporting cast, Gavitt rebuilt the team with young
legs. He made former first round pick Brian Shaw come to Boston. He then
drafted Dee Brown to add even more young legs to the guard spot. He kept Kevin
Gamble despite the fact he was nothing more than a CBA castoff that could not
make it with Portland. These men along with Reggie Lewis breathed life back
into the Celtics and the result was the team went 108 and 56 in his first two
years running the show.

 

A True Hall of Famer

According to Wikipedia, Coach Gavitt is:

is a member of the Providence College Athletic Hall of Fame (1984), National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics Hall of Fame (2000), and the International Scholar-Athlete Hall of Fame (2000). Gavitt was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame on September 8, 2006. He became the third former member of the Friar athletic program (after John Thompson and Lenny Wilkens), and the first native of Rhode Island to be enshrined. The court at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, Friar’s home court, in Providence, Rhode Island is named after him.

Coach Gavitt died in 2011 and remains one of the most revered names in Rhode Island sports.

 

Advertisements